An Auckland woman scaled the fence of a multimillion-dollar clifftop mansion to "rescue" a dog she says was mistreated - but the owners say they are shocked by the intrusion and no longer feel safe in their own home.
Rebecca Henwood took the extraordinary action after she says she watched the dog for more than a year and was finally spurred to act after a call to the SPCA did not see any results.
Henwood regularly walks her dogs at an off-leash dog park that borders the high-end family home in East Auckland and had become concerned over the state of the dog, saying he was just "skin and bones", appeared to be suffering from a skin condition and was kept inside a small enclosure.
A friend who also uses the park sent a complaint to the SPCA and when the organisation replied to say they found no breach of animal welfare laws, Henwood took action.
Henwood told the Herald she went to the property last Friday after seeing the SPCA's reply to her friend's complaint.
She said she just planned on taking photos, until she saw the dog, named Paul, up close.
Henwood told the Herald that there were multiple cars parked at the property on the day and she didn't want "bother their party".
"It just all happened," she said.
In a post on a popular Auckland dog owner's Facebook page, Henwood told how she uplifted the dog.
"When I climbed the fence to his enclosure he was so happy to see me and wagging his tail and jumped up for pats.
"I burst out crying at the state of him. He looked about 14 years old and was covered in sore red itchy skin and lumps and bumps and ringworm. And he stunk like nothing I've smelled before," she wrote.
"There was a gardener on a ride-on mower I was trying to hide from.
"I had no plan but I could not leave him there.
"I let him out while the man was driving away from us. Then picked up this rather large and very smelly dirty dog over the back fence. All the while thinking 'what am I doing!!!'."
Kim Taylor, national communications manager for the SPCA, told the Herald that the organisation had been "thrown under the bus" by earlier comments online from Henwood that pointed the finger at them.
She said there were two dogs on the property and the SPCA was not told this, nor told where on the property the dog that was the subject of the complaint was located.
"There was no mention of another dog, there was no mention of it being on the back property, she did not send or give us any information," Taylor said.
Henwood disputes this and says that the SPCA was told of the dog's location.
"We went and visited and didn't see an issue," Taylor told the Herald.
The inspector had seen Paul's brother Smart and given him the all-clear.
Taylor said they would have returned to the property to examine the second animal if they had known there was another dog, but Henwood's action meant they could no longer investigate.
Taylor said it was "not uncommon" for people to take the law into their own hands in attempts to "rescue" animals.
She said that, in some cases, owners were threatened with media coverage to pressure them into signing over their animals.
In this case, the Herald contacted Rebecca Henwood after she shared details of her exploits on a popular Facebook page.
Kim Taylor had advice for anyone wanting to take similar action, urging them to leave it to those with the power to act and noting that the SPCA were the only organisation with those powers under the Animal Welfare Act.
"It really does undermine a lot of the work that we do," Taylor said, adding that the SPCA would be "laughed out of court" if they attempted to prosecute an owner after an animal had been illegally removed from a property by a third party.
Henwood acknowledged to the Herald that she had been wrong to initially accuse the SPCA.
"I thought that the SPCA had failed but then we later found that they didn't even go to the right dog, so now it's just a big mess," she said.
Henwood said she understood that her actions were illegal, but she felt compelled to act.
She said that due to the "atrocious" state of the dog she believed he was around 14 years of age, but in fact he is only half that age.
"He stunk like I can't even explain ... he looked like he should live in the slums of India," she said.
Dog lovers online were full of praise for Henwood's actions, describing the owners as "captors" and Henwood and Pollard as "miracle workers" and "true angels".
"Hat's off to you," one person wrote. "This fur baby is so lucky you came into his life."
A new life for 'Paul'?
Paul was then taken home by Henwood, who shared details of her actions online and asked for help.
Fellow dog-lover Rhianna Pollard answered the call and Paul went to her place for the night for a bath, a feed, and wearing an old collar belonging to Henwood that contained her contact details.
The next morning he jumped Pollard's fence and was off, briefly held by another neighbour until he vaulted their fence too.
Then he was picked up by Animal Control and taken to the pound in Manukau.
"This was not a well thought out plan," Henwood shared online.
"I literally left a calling card so I'm not hiding what happened anymore," she wrote.
Pollard then visited the former owners to try and persuade them to sign over ownership of the dog.
"She was thanking me and she was bowing to me and she was happy that I was there to help the dog," Pollard said of her meeting with the former owners.
She told the Herald that she explained to them that they needed to remove the dog from the pound by Saturday, May 29, or else he was at risk of being euthanised.
Pollard claimed the former owners told her that they would not be retrieving Paul and she then asked them to sign ownership to her so she could free him but when the Herald called the former owners on the morning of the 29th, more than one week after he was removed, they claimed to be on their way to the pound and believed they were still the legal owners.
Eventually, Paul was released to Pollard and renamed, now going by "Gil".
"Short for Gilead because he was smuggled out to freedom," Rebecca Henwood wrote on social media, in reference to Margaret Attwood's The Handmaid's Tale.
'Dodgy things happening'
Speaking to the Herald today, a spokesman for Paul's owners said the family were shocked by his removal and said that they were planning to consult a lawyer.
He said Paul and Smart (the other dog owned by the family) acted as a form of security on the sprawling property and the family feared that Paul's removal was part of a wider plan.
He said there were "so many dodgy things happening here" and the family now felt unsafe in their home.
He said that they believed that Pollard was a council worker when the ownership was signed over and said the family didn't understand what they were signing.
A police spokesperson told the Herald that they had not received any complaints over the incident but that anyone taking similar action could find themselves charged with burglary.
Kim Taylor from the SPCA agreed.
"It is illegal. Leave it to us, because we actually can remove dog if we need to."